It's a square world: The border of the United States (top) and Mexico (bottom), both looking uncharacteristically rectangular. Planet Labs, Inc

Turkey is extremely rectangular—but not as much as Egypt, Lethoso, and Ghana.

Following last week’s failed coup in Turkey, David Barry noticed an awful lot of friends airing their armchair geopolitical analyses on Facebook. One posted a map of the country accompanied by this observation: "Say what you will about Turkey, it is a remarkably rectangular country."

Barry, a Perth-based programmer and digital mapmaker, took that remark and ran with it, to astonishingly nerdy lengths: He devised a method of ranking more than 200 countries, principalities, republics and nation-states according to rectangularity. Pretty scientific stuff here: Barry examined the “maximum percentage overlap” between the area within a nation’s borders and a “rectangle of the same area,” according to his personal website. (He also added a disclaimer related to the digital files smoothly outlining each country’s shape—essentially, objects may be less rectangular in real life than they appear here.)

Which countries crack the top ten, according to Barry’s analysis? In order, and shown below: Egypt, Vatican City, Sint Maarten, Lethoso, Yemen, Ghana, Macedonia, Cote d’Ivoire, Poland, and Nauru. (Turkey comes in at 15th place.)

(David Barry)

These squarish places are a mix of landlocked (or mostly landlocked) states, like Poland or Macedonia, or enclaves like Vatican City or Lethoso. Two are islands. And several are nations with arbitrary borders drawn by outsiders, which could help explain why they’re also riddled with conflict. The outlines of many African countries were determined almost entirely “without consideration for those actually living there,” according to Reuters, by European colonial powers in the early 20th century. The legacy of this continues to spark conflict and secessionist movements around the continent. The straight borders of many Middle Eastern countries tell a similar story—they’re largely the result of the 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement, in which new borders created by English and French aristocratic statesmen “did not correspond to the actual sectarian, tribal, or ethnic distinctions on the ground,” according to the BBC. Needless to say, problems related to those nuanced distinctions haven’t gone away.

Not that rectangularity necessarily yields conflict. “In general I am skeptical
of that sort of cross-country statistical analysis,” Barry tells CityLab via email. Nor does wiggliness (yes, that’s the proper term) lead to stability and peace. In the bottom ten of Barry’s ranking are a collection of island nations: the Maldives, Marshall Islands, Tuvalu, Cape Verde, Solomon Island, Bahamas, Seychelles, Indonesia, Kiribati, and Tonga—a roll-call of several of the world’s most vulnerable places as sea levels rise. Sometimes, it’s good to be square.

For interactive fun with straight-lined borders, head over to Barry’s site.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Smoke from the fires hangs over Brazil.
    Environment

    Why the Amazon Is on Fire

    The rash of wildfires now consuming the Amazon rainforest can be blamed on a host of human factors, from climate change to deforestation to Brazilian politics.

  2. An aerial photo of downtown Miami.
    Life

    The Fastest-Growing U.S. Cities Aren’t What You Think

    Looking at the population and job growth of large cities proper, rather than their metro areas, uncovers some surprises.

  3. Graduates react near the end of commencement exercises at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, U.S.
    Life

    Where Do College Grads Live? The Top and Bottom U.S. Cities

    Even though superstar hubs top the list of the most educated cities, other cities are growing their share at a much faster rate.

  4. In a stunt that's gone viral, Elyse Chelsea Clark organized an fake engagement photoshoot to proclaim her love for Popeyes.
    Etiquette

    The New Urban Fried-Chicken Crisis

    The life and death and rebirth of fried chicken in American cities.

  5. a map of London Uber driver James Farrar's trip data.
    Transportation

    For Ride-Hailing Drivers, Data Is Power

    Uber drivers in Europe and the U.S. are fighting for access to their personal data. Whoever wins the lawsuit could get to reframe the terms of the gig economy.

×